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Fracking Giant Chesapeake Energy Files for Bankruptcy

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Fracking Giant Chesapeake Energy Files for Bankruptcy
A Chesapeake Energy drilling rig is located on farmland near Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, on March 20, 2012. Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor / Getty Images

By Eoin Higgins

Climate advocates pointed to news Sunday that fracking giant Chesapeake Energy was filing for bankruptcy as further evidence that the fossil fuel industry's collapse is being hastened by the coronavirus pandemic and called for the government to stop propping up businesses in the field.


"Fracking giant Chesapeake Energy just declared bankruptcy thanks to its massive $9 billion debt," tweeted Friends of the Earth. "Meanwhile the Trump administration continues to try and bail out this garbage fire industry with our tax dollars—despite clear risks."

The company, which at its peak in 2008 was valued at $37 billion, had a market capitalization of just $115 million on Friday.

"The debt bubble made it unable for Chesapeake to maneuver when the pandemic ruined demand for energy," David Dayen wrote of the bankruptcy for The American Prospect.

News reports put most of the blame for the bankruptcy on former CEO Aubrey McClendon, who bought up leases and rights around the country as the fracking industry boomed.

As Forbes reported, a number of bad business decisions and moves left Chesapeake in bad condition even before gas prices collapsed due to the slowed demand from the pandemic.

According to Forbes:

As natural gas prices collapsed in the late 2000s, McClendon next turned to sales of his own company's assets or portions of working interests in big play areas as a means of continuing to finance and pay down that debt. He sold shares of the company's working interests in the Barnett, the Eagle Ford, the Marcellus and the Haynesville to various other players, like BP and CNOOC, but every sale also meant less and less cash flow coming into the company itself. Many in the business during that time joked about it being a sort of a pyramid scheme in which the debts would ultimately end up outstripping the company's income and ability to pay.

McClendon also made the decision in 2010-11 to shift Chesapeake's gas-heavy asset mix to one more heavy in liquids. That strategic decision certainly helped during a time of $100 oil prices, but the bust of 2015-16 and the current COVID-19-related price collapse ultimately proved to heavy a burden for current CEO Doug Lawler—who was brought on board in 2013—and his management team to navigate. A company that once had a market cap of over $37 billion at one point in May saw its market cap drop as low as $200 million. A company that once employed over 8,000 individuals today employs around 2,300.

John Thieroff, a senior analyst at Moody's Investors Service, told the Financial Times Sunday he expected other companies to follow suit.

"There will no doubt be others to file for bankruptcy in the near term as the sector looks to get out from under the copious amount of debt it took on during the boom," said Thieroff.

President Donald Trump has weighed bailing out the fossil fuel industry as part of a coronavirus pandemic recovery plan. The plans have been met with stiff resistance from environmental groups like Western Values Project, which said in May that the move was an example of the White House "using a public health crisis as an excuse to bail out the president's corporate cronies while leaving everyone else to fend for themselves."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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